Monday, January 11, 2010

Obsolete Learning Technologies - NOT!

Every year (or at least at the end of a decade) people feel compelled to pronounce certain things obsolete - let's toss them by the way side and move on proclaim the pundits! This year is no different. Recently Inside Higher Ed had their own obsolete learning technologies list - which I obviously completely disagree with.

Here's the bird's eye view:

  1. Scantron Sheets

  2. Overhead Projectors/Transparencies

  3. Classroom VHS/DVD Players

  4. Course Packs & Course Readers

  5. Photocopiers

  6. Microfiche

  7. Language and Computer Labs

  8. Paper Journals and Periodicals

So here's why I disagree:
Scantron sheets are still useful and relevant. Why? Well, if you're teaching a few classes with 60+ students in them (or even if you're not), you don't always have time to take your questions - which your probably formulated into word, copy and paste them into an LMS quiz module, select the correct answers and make an answer tree out of them. It is much, much, simpler to develop a good multiple choice test, have it in word, mark the correct answers on one scantron sheet and let the machine do the rest. Once the machine grading is done you're set. No "my computer froze" excuses from students, no LMS downtime, nothing. Just done.

Overhead Projectors: Personally I would prefer it if some of my PowerPoint wielding professors used overheads and transparencies. Why? Because then they can interact with the content! They can draw, and annotate and point to things, and heck, they can even jot down new notes! PowerPoint is not that easy to work with in that respect,and not every classroom has a smartboard - however for $40 and the cost of an extension cord (if you need it) you've got multimedia - old school!

In class DVD/VHS players: The idea of LMS video streaming is nice. In a perfect world perhaps. However Josh has obviously not thought of all the variables (and probably does not have a lot of contact with faculty teaching realities). Many people tape things off broadcast TV, borrow a film from the library or blockbuster (or netflx), or heck they may even copy it. They don't necessarily have the rights to show a clip or a video in whole. Should they? Of course, but the reality is that they don't always. Second, a lot of videos have never made it to have streaming versions. Some are still on LaserDisc or 16mm (or VHS)! Could they be digitized? Of course! But then you have a cost-benefit of getting a hold of proper licenses. Finally, networks go down and there is a technology requirement. DVD and VHS players are ubiquitous and cheap, whereas streaming (in addition to requiring internet), also require special software. Real Media doesn't play on my iPhone, WMV streaming doesn't either...or flash for that matter. If I can't (for some reason or another) run the software my educational experience is impaired.

Course Packs: Yes, you can put them on an LMS. Again we are coming back to rights management. Personally (working in a library), I would prefer to see better use of e-Reserve. It's a great service, it does provide essentially what are course packs, and best of all: it's free to students. Coursepacks however are not dead, they are reborn.

Photocopiers: Seriously? Photocopiers are not dead, and they won't be any time soon. Why? There are many books that are not digitized, and many journals from before 1980 (I think) that are still only available in paper form! What does that mean? You need photocopiers to get a copy of that article that is only in paper form.

Microfiche: Microfiche, again, is not going anywhere. Why? Because film is archival! You can store a lot of information on microfilm and microfiche and it can be preserved for a very long time. Now digital info is great, but it's not necessarily archival in quality. Again, as with photocopiers, there is A LOT of information locked up in microfiche that has not been digitized yet - therefore - technology is not obsolete.

Paper Journals & Periodicals: Yes, again, things are digital, but your subscription to things like Gale and EBSCO databases does not mean that (1) you've got all journals and (2) it does not mean that you have them forever. You only lease access and once you can't pay any more - that's it! Whereas paper journals you own forever!

Language and Computer Labs: Finally, language labs are gone - but that's because the premise of the language lab is based on an Audiolingual methodology for teaching language, which according to newer research isn't always the best methodology to use all the time (in moderation, depending on the exercise, perhaps). I lament the demise of the language lab because I think that students need access to language resources and linguistic expertise and now there is no place to get it. Language labs and Language librarians/experts need to make a comeback to improve language teaching.
As far as computer labs go...I don't know how things are at Josh's institution, but from what I see in my neck of the woods, there are waiting lines for computer in out public labs. Also, you are assuming that students with laptops are going to always bring them to class. School is expensive. Laptops are expensive and they represent a significant investment to some students - it makes sense that they don't carry them around everywhere.

In closing - I guess it's all down to the eye of the beholder. I just wish that my fellow learning technologists would consider teaching and learning in the classroom (a learner and context analysis if you will) before they prematurely proclaim certain technologies obsolete.
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